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management
The Absentee Exhibit
Manager's Playbook
How do you effectively manage your exhibit and staff when they're on the field and you're in your office? Eight exhibit-marketing experts huddle up and create a playbook for success. By Linda Armstrong
Deanna Aamodt
Thomson Reuters Corp.
Number of Shows/Year: 700
Percentage Attended: 10%

Jan Aument
BASF Construction Systems
Number of Shows/Year: 25
Percentage Attended: 8%

Glenda Brungardt
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Number of Shows/Year: 60
Percentage Attended: 5%

Lisa Gentilin
Fancy Shindigs Inc.
Number of Shows/Year: 36
Percentage Attended: 35%

Michael Guillory
Texas Instruments Inc.
Number of Shows/Year: 30
Percentage Attended: 20%

Susan Shuttleworth
TransCore
Number of Shows/Year: 130
Percentage Attended: 50%

Jeannine Swan
Global Exhibit Management
Number of Shows/Year: 64
Percentage Attended: 10%

Judy Volker
Iatric Systems Inc.
Number of Shows/Year: 35
Percentage Attended: 15%
ike any good football quarterback, most exhibit managers take the field with their teams. But sometimes, exhibit managers must act more like sidelined coaches and less like on-field QBs. Myriad situations can force them to bark orders from the confines of their offices while the rest of the team hits the field.

So how do these sidelined coaches continue to manage their trade show programs without completely fumbling the handoff? That's exactly the question EXHIBITOR asked eight exhibit-marketing experts. Their insightful, been-there-survived-that answers form the basis of the following playbook for success.

If you're stuck coaching from your desk chair as opposed to suiting up with your team for the big show, this helpful guide will provide you with the tips and techniques to help you keep your head in the game – and maybe even do your own touchdown dance in the end zone.

Appoint an On-Site Manager
A football coach devises the strategy and manages the game, but the quarterback executes that plan on the field. So an absentee exhibit manager invariably has to hand off the ball to a backup QB, or what our experts refer to as a booth captain, on-site manager, or team lead – or as one source cleverly put it, "the mini me I trust with my program." Thus, drafting the right QB and providing the proper training is critical to your program's success.
"Identify people in your company who might fit the booth-captain role. Then have them mirror your every move at several shows."

According to Michael Guillory, who leads worldwide corporate brand communications at Texas Instruments Inc., selecting and monitoring your booth captain should take place over time. "Throughout the year – and hopefully before your QB takes the field alone – identify people in your company who might fit the booth-captain role," he says. "Then have them mirror your every move at several trade shows. Walk them through what-if scenarios such as trouble with union labor, lost freight, skewered exhibit graphics, etc. Having actually experienced these situations will make your booth captain far more confident and capable of carrying out your plans without you."

If there's no suitable booth captain from within your organization, look for help outside of it. "Our exhibit-house account executive handles logistics for every show, including filling out forms, monitoring installation, etc., and he's my right hand during the show," says Glenda Brungardt, CTSM, trade show/event marketing program manager, HP Printing and Personal System Group, Hewlett-Packard Co. "So if I can't attend the show, I simply hand over the reins, and he steps into my shoes."

Jeannine Swan, owner and president of Global Exhibit Management, enlists a supervisor from her installation-and-dismantle company to direct the team on the trade show floor. "Most of the problems we run into when I'm not there have to do with shipping and I&D," she says. "So I use our I&D lead to supervise these two processes and act as a go-to person for our staff. It costs a little extra for his help, but it's worth it to ensure that my exhibit staff can just walk onto the show floor and staff the booth, and none of us have to worry about setup or outbound shipping."

Train Your Team
Clearly, then, there's a large pool of available talent for those exhibit managers with the power to chose their stand-ins. But what if you don't have that luxury? To cut travel costs, and to staff small and/or regional shows, many exhibit managers must rely on local salespeople or sometimes merely a single, lone representative to manage the booth no matter how little he or she knows about exhibiting.

In these cases, Judy Volker, marketing director at Iatric Systems Inc., insists that everyone staffing the booth go through an intensive training program. "Before anyone staffs one of our trade shows, they complete a training session that covers not only how to work a show but also how to set up and tear down the booth," Volker says. "So along with a written show plan, which contains all the details, instructions, and contacts associated with each show, we arm our staff with general show and staffing knowledge. And we give them intensive one-on-one instruction in how to manage the program in our absence."

Lisa Gentilin, president of Fancy Shindigs Inc., goes a step further. "For shows where we use a 20-by-20-foot booth or larger or where exhibit setup or management is particularly tricky, we hold a meeting via Skype in our exhibit warehouse," she says. "So with myself and any local marketing staff in the warehouse, and our remote booth captains and exhibiting staff in their offices, my account executive and I walk everyone through exhibit setup, show them how all the components work (such as video monitors, demonstrations, etc.), explain the post-show teardown and packing process, and go through the critical steps they must complete to get the booth properly shipped to its next destination."

Granted, this type of intense staff training takes time. But sources suggest you at least do a yearly training session and then perhaps turn its key points into an informational video that booth captains and staffers can reference throughout the year.

Manage Exhibitry
Even though you may have assembled and trained the perfect team, they can't take the field without the right equipment. Thus, you need some kind of inventory-management system to ensure that the right exhibit parts arrive at each show and are properly returned, inspected, and possibly cleaned or repaired afterward.

"If you rent your exhibit properties," says Susan Shuttleworth, director of corporate marketing communications at TransCore, "you need merely select your components – usually via the exhibit house's online inventory or through a bid process – and voila, it shows up when and where you need it. Plus, renting all but eliminates many shipping and I&D issues."

"Before anyone staffs one of our trade shows, they complete a training session that covers not only how to work a show but also how to set up and tear down the booth."

Some exhibit houses also have an extensive exhibit-inventory system built into their services. "Our vendor has an awesome Web-based 'dashboard' program that shows all of our properties online, including photos and information about the availability and condition of each piece," says Deanna Aamodt, manager of global events at Thomson Reuters. "I just type in what I want to order on the dashboard, the system calculates my costs, and my exhibit house sends the exhibitry wherever I need it."

Many of the exhibit managers we spoke to feel this type of inventory system is almost a requirement for any exhibit house with which they choose to work. However, other options can seem to prove just as viable.

"We have an in-depth but low-tech inventory-management process," Gentilin says. "Before a property goes out to a show, the exhibit house sets it up and sends me photos of it so I can see that all the pieces are present and in good shape. When the components come back from the show, the warehouse takes pictures of the crates to check for damage, and then they photograph the inside of the crates before anything is removed. That way, I can see if our staff packed the components properly, or if they just slammed them into the crates and hightailed it off the show floor." Gentilin also has her exhibit house inspect each piece as it's returned to check for damages, and notify her if anything needs attention. "I negotiate this nominal cost into our warehouse contract," she says. "But even if I had to pay a hefty fee for this service, it would be worth it to me to be able to track my properties and their condition, particularly since I don't inspect them on the show floor."

Assign Jobs and Make Introductions
Obviously, setting measurable program goals and communicating them to your staff is a critical step in every trade show game plan. But when you're sidelined, assigning goals and roles to each player is critical. Shuttleworth spells out the exact roles of each staff member. "We outline each staffer's show responsibilities and include this information in the overall show guide," she says. "So everyone from the guy serving coffee to the company president has a clear understanding of what's expected of him or her at the show."

Another effective pregame strategy is to ensure that all of the vendors and suppliers associated with your program have a relationship with your backup QB. Volker introduces her booth captain and staff to as many people as possible. "I make sure they meet our account executive, the I&D people, the AV suppliers, and our show-management reps," Volker says. "Whenever possible, I make face-to-face introductions, but if I can't swing that, then I try to schedule a quick conference call or at least a group email between all parties to make the introductions. That way, our suppliers see my booth staff as an extension of me, not some random man or woman that doesn't deserve the same amount of respect or attention that I do."

Swan takes these relationship-building techniques to another level. "If I have a venue contact or a supplier that I'm going to need to lean on because of my absence from the show, I work to establish a relationship by communicating before the show even begins," she says. "I thank them for their assistance before they have done anything to ensure I get their assistance when the pressure is on. My thanks could be in the form of a simple phone call or actual thank-you card, or sometimes for exceptional assistance, I'll send them a thank-you gift with a personalized note."

Sidestep Snafus
Once your team makes it to the show hall, the real challenge begins, as things can get hairy in a hurry if your team fumbles any shipping or I&D issues. According to our experts, you can sidestep these issues with clear instructions before the show and a bit of follow-up during it.

To make sure that her exhibit is always set up and packed away properly, Gentilin whips out her camera. "Most people pepper their show guides with photos of how the booth and its components should look once assembled," she says. "I like to take photos related to each of the various steps in the setup process and place them in locations where they can be accessed most effectively. For example, the exterior of every one of my crates, packing cases, and plastic boxes includes a photo of how the interior of the crate should look when packed." This info shows the staffer what components should be present in the container and where everything goes – making packing much easier. "I also include snapshots of the setup process, such as close-ups of any particularly difficult steps, along with detailed instructions," she says. Similarly, if there are any tricky steps involved in dismantling and packing the exhibit, she includes photos and descriptions to guide staff through the process.

QB Cheat Sheet
Your backup QB and staff need an on-field cheat sheet. Our experts suggest that it contain all the typical data you'd provide to your staff (e.g., show hours, staffing schedules, travel details, goals, demo instructions, etc.), but that you also include the following data.
Booth Floor Plan and Orientation Diagram – These documents will help your team set up the booth so it's facing the right direction and all of its components are in their proper locations, as opposed to blocking traffic or sight lines.
Emergency Contacts Specific to the Show City – Identify suppliers around the convention center your staff may need if there's an exhibiting emergency. List contact numbers for everyone from printers and graphics suppliers to medical centers and the local Geek Squad.
"What Goes Where"
Explanations –
After your booth is assembled, you likely place various items where they're used most effectively. For example, maybe the lead scanner is used more frequently if it's on an aisle-side kiosk than if it's sitting on a reception desk. So include information about how and where to set up computers, lead-retrieval machines, demo stations, literature holders, etc.
Union Rules – Your staff likely doesn't have a clue about union jurisdictions and regulations. So spell out union rules pertinent to the show location to make sure they don't step on the Teamsters' toes and delay your I&D schedule.
Security and Technology – Note anything that needs to be locked up after the show each day or even removed from the booth to prevent theft. Also indicate if any of your technology and electrical components should remain powered up (perhaps to prevent long boot-up times the next day).
Glossary – Create a short list of the most common terms people will launch at your staff, including everything from drayage and packing terms (e.g., pad wrapped, banded, and Visqueen) to I&D- and union-labor lingo (e.g., scissors lift, labor call, and official contractor).

When it comes to shipping, our sources arm their staff with as much information as possible, including packing lists, invoices, bills of lading, drivers' phone numbers, shipping contacts, post-show shipping directions, preprinted labels and forms, etc. However, Gentilin devotes extra attention to the post-show handoff.

"Before the show, I instruct the booth captain to call me immediately after dropping off the return shipping forms at the service desk," Gentilin says. "At that point, I question him or her about what was sent, what forms were delivered, etc. If anything is amiss, we can immediately head off any problems. If all is well, I can start tracking the shipment using the information provided. Plus, if I don't get a call from the lead when I expect it, I call him or her to find out what's going on, and to make sure that the staff didn't leave the booth sitting on the show floor – and leave me with a forced-freight nightmare."

"My lead sends pictures of the booth right after setup so I can make sure nothing is amiss. But I also get pictures of booth traffic throughout the day or even videos of people coming and going in the booth. That way I have an opportunity to identify problems."

Jan Aument, CTSM, trade show and event coordinator for BASF Construction Chemicals, also has forced-freight fears, so much so that she created a staff-training presentation that specifically explains forced freight and how to avoid it. "Titled 'Forced Freight = Bad,' my 15-minute presentation pokes fun at what happens in a forced-freight situation," Aument says. "The tongue-in-cheek presentation includes goofy, albeit real, photos illustrating what not to do, yet it delivers the serious information necessary to ensure our shipment makes it back to the exhibit house. So instead of me preaching to deaf ears about a really dry subject, our salespeople actually listen to and absorb the presentation, which has practically eliminated our forced-freight snafus."

Schedule Regular Checkups
With your team on the field and you on the sidelines, there's not a whole lot you can do to monitor their effectiveness, right? Wrong. Both Gentilin and Brungardt pick up the phone to check on their team members during the show. "I typically call our lead person during setup, just to make sure everything is going smoothly," Brungardt says."And I usually call him or her at random times throughout the show to see if anything has popped up, check effectiveness, and basically just let people know I'm still following the progress and managing the trade show."

Gentilin's phone calls are a bit less random. "At the specific times my team should be starting setup and teardown, I call my booth captain to check progress," she says. "Just by listening to the sounds in the background I can tell if these tasks are actually underway, or if something, including anything from a delayed shipment to staff being late for setup, is holding up the process."

Email is the communication method of choice for Guillory, who requires his booth captain to send a short report via this medium every day. "I simply ask for an overall impression of how the day went, a description of any problems, and a report on the results compared to the daily goals we've set." Aamodt requires a similar nightly email from her booth lead. "I want to know how things are going in general, but I also need to know about any issues so we have a chance to fix them before the show ends," she says.

Aument prefers photographic proof. "My lead sends pictures of the booth right after setup so I can make sure nothing is amiss," she says. "But I also get pictures of booth traffic throughout the day or even videos of people coming and going in the booth. That way I have an opportunity to identify problems – such as a kiosk blocking traffic, ineffective graphics, staffers clogging the entrance, etc. – and find solutions to correct them."

Some exhibit managers also enlist their lead-capture technology to monitor staff effectiveness. Gentilin, for example, programs her software to include both a time stamp and the staffer's name that recorded the lead. That way, she can check not only how many leads each staffer took, but also when they were taken in relation to their scheduled booth time. "If a staffer is scheduled to work the booth at 9 a.m., and I don't see any lead activity from this person until 10:45 a.m., I will suspect that he or she didn't make it to the booth on time. I will talk to them after the show to see if they really just were not complying with the schedule and process, or if there was a legitimate reason for their absence, such as a last-minute client meeting," she says. "If people aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing in my absence, I don't want them working the booth again, as it directly affects the ROI being tracked for upper management."

Aamodt and her team members use tablets to record lead-capture information in real time. Thus, at any time during the trade show she can see who is scanning the leads and how much effort they are putting into qualifying those leads based on the notes they're adding to the fields. "If I sense something is amiss by what I'm seeing online, I can call the staff to investigate,"
she says.

Clearly, being an absentee exhibit manager is neither easy glamorous nor easy. In fact, staying home and coaching
from the backfield is probably a lot harder than incurring a few bumps and bruises on the field. But with these tips and tactics,
you can better manage your exhibit program and lead your team from the ever-important draft right through the final
play of the game.

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